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Aluminum F-150 as safe as steel but repair costs higher

Ford Motor Company

Updated:  9:51 a.m. 7-30-15 This story was updated to reflect Ford's disputing the IIHS finding that the new F-150 is more costly to repair than the old F-150. 

Ford's F-150 pickup truck has been the best selling vehicle in the United States for 28 years — and the best selling truck for 33 years.

And the truck is Ford's most profitable vehicle, according to analysts.

So there were some raised eyebrows when Ford announced it would make the next F-150 with a mostly aluminum body, instead of steel.

"Will it be as safe?" some wondered.

The answer, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is an unequivocal "yes."

The crew cab version of the new F-150 got the highest rating of "good" on all five of the Institute's tests, including the difficult small overlap crash test.

"Aluminum bodied vehicles can do just as well in crash tests as steel ones," says the Institute's Russ Rader.

But not all the F-150s tested the same

Normally, that would be the end of the story. 

IIHS typically tests only the top-selling version of a particular vehicle.  But Rader says a member of the media suggested the Institute also test the extended cab version of the truck.

That's because Ford apparently added structural supports to the front of the crew cab truck but not the extended cab one.

When IIHS sent the extended cab truck through the tests, the truck received a "good" rating on four, but a "marginal" on the small overlap crash.

Ford says it will add countermeasures to the extended cab version in the 2016 model year.

Will it be more expensive to repair?

IIHS also tested repair costs for the new truck, because of concerns it would be more expensive to repair aluminum dings, dents and crumples than the same dings, dents and crumples in steel.

IIHS says it cost about 25% more to repair the truck after low-speed "fender-bender" crashes, than to repair the trucks made of steel.

"Obviously that has implications for out-of-pocket costs for consumers," says Rader, although he says it's possible repair costs for the new truck may come down over time.

Ford disputes the finding on repair costs

Ford's statement:

We do not agree with the repairability costs and findings by IIHS. Real-world repair costs for the 2015 F-150 to date are comparable to or less than other full-size pickups and an average $869 more affordable to repair than last year’s F-150. These costs are being tracked by Assured Performance, an independent body shop certification company that works with leading automakers. In fact, insurance companies agree with the new F-150’s repair costs – with both Allstate and State Farm saying insurance costs for the new F-150 will remain comparable with 2014 models.

Earlier, Ford also disputed the findings of an Edmunds.com test performed in January. 

Edmunds deliberately damaged a new F-150 with a sledgehammer and took the truck to a dealer for repair.  You can read that report here.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.